Hailing from Dodoma, Tanzania, Grace Mbiaji has come to America to further her studies. After completing undergrad and spending her life in East Africa, she has transitioned to the states but more importantly – the South. Throughout her tenure, she’s learned what is like to live in a new society, adapt and learn just how much she misses home.
GRACE MBIAJI: I hope you understand my explanations. English isn’t my first language and I want this to be good.
NOIR MAGAZINE: I’m sure that won’t be a problem. What is your native language?
At home, in my country, we speak Swahili.
What’s home like for you? Were you raised primarily in the city or a village?
I was born in Dodoma, Tanzania but raised in Arusha, Tanzania. I didn’t really grow up at home, but in school, in the village. My home in Dodoma was in the city.
How old were you when you started school?
I began kindergarten, well primary school, at age five. Schooling in my country goes primary, secondary, high school and then college. Secondary education can be classified into two levels: O-level [ordinary] and A-level [advanced].
How old are you now?
Semoria! A lady never tells her age, but I will say it ranges between twenty-three and twenty-seven.
After completing the first three phases of education in your country, you went to college. What was that experience like for you?
I completed four years of University at Ardhi University in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. There I majored in Civil Engineering. Dar is the capital city of my country; I enjoyed being in the country I grew up in.
How long have you been in the land of the free and home of the brave?
Sofar, I’ve been here for nine months. I’m studying engineering at South Carolina State University as a graduate student.
How did you get to America?
I knew I wanted to come to get exposure and see what opportunities I could come across. I already had experienced education, so I was somewhat familiar with the system.
What brought you to a HBCU in Orangeburg, South Carolina? Out of all the places you could have gone, what made this your final decision?
Honestly, I could have gone anywhere. I applied for all the scholarships I could find to send me to the U.S. Once I received one, I started researching and ran across South Carolina State University. Plus, I didn’t want to walk into school with a whole bunch of white people.
Are you happy with your choice?
Most definitely, I’m enjoying a new experience.
Do you believe there is a big difference between Africans and Black Americans? In terms of culture and lifestyle.
Yes, in every way. Life and way of living all go back to culture. That’s very important to us at home. Your praying, your friends, your food – it’s different. Your country is more lenient with transportation I see too. You guys’ infrastructure and technology are advanced.
Specifically, what situation can you recall since being here that made you say, “Oh I’m definitely not home anymore”?
The way younger people speak to those older than them. It’s like they get to say whatever they want. Just like in class – students speak to the teacher however. It’s like what, you can say that? Oh no. That’s not what we do where I am from. We are very respectful in my country. We treat the teacher with importance because that’s how we learn.
If you’ve been paying attention to Americas’ President and current events, communication and respect does seem to be a nation problem. Speaking of difference in culture, how do you like American cuisine?
I don’t! It’s terrible [chuckles]. No, honestly though, it’s not bad but it’s not the best. That’s why I’m sharing the recipe for Pilau – you need it.
Touche, but don’t act like you don’t like a good burger. Everyone likes burgers.
Yeah, you’re right. I do like burgers.
How has it been for you in the South? Have you experienced racism?
Being in South Carolina is something, I’ll say. I like it a little, but I have experienced racism.
I don’t know how to explain it, but it was a feeling. A feeling I’d not felt in my country. I was in line at a restaurant and a white woman was in front of me. The restaurant worker was white also. When it was my turn to be serviced, she didn’t treat me the same.
How did that make you feel?
It was shocking. There are white people in my country and we don’t interact like that. We treat people nice and kind. We don’t care about skin. We’re more about tribe.
Racism has been a constant battle for Black Americans. Often, they [we] joke about hoping on the boat and going back home. Do you think Black Americans’ would be welcome?
Of course! Enough people don’t come back and visit the motherland. Every African-American should make it apparent to visit. I’ve never met a black person from America in my country – always white people. Although all life comes from Africa, I see more white people experiencing our culture than African-Americans’.
As of right now, do you see yourself living here permanently or you miss home?
Oh no, for now, I would never live here permanently. I miss home terribly. I just want to finish my studies and go back.
How long does it take for you to get home?
It takes me twenty-eight hours to get home. A one-way ticket is $1,000. Round trip is around $2,000. It could be plus or minus but it’s around that range.
It’s not hard to infer then that you don’t go home often, huh?
You’re right, I don’t. It’s so expensive and going home requires you to bring gifts back. The gifts are for the elders around me. It all can get expensive but, I wouldn’t trade my culture for anything.
What’sone thing America has taught you?
How to adapt, in every way. I’ve learnedto adjust. It’s so many different directions to go in this country. Anotherthing, I’ve met some good people here. But I’ve also lost some people too.America has been an experience and I’m grateful for it.